FIREBRAND politician and former war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda (JS) says he is not a bitter man despite being kicked out of Zanu PF ahead of the party’s divisive congress last year. Sibanda is now one of the key members of the People First movement, a group of former Zanu PF officials ousted from the party and government currently rallying behind former vice-president Joice Mujuru. In a wide-ranging interview with Zimbabwe Independent (ZI) reporters Owen Gagare and Fidelity Mhlanga, Sibanda said the country’s military would not have problems with Mujuru and his party was prepared to confront Zanu PF head on. He also spoke about Mujuru’s leadership qualities, his role in the 2008 poll violence, the Third Force and the opposition. Find interview excerpts below:
ZI: We understand that you are part of the People First project. How would you describe People First? Is it a movement or a political party, or what?
JS: I am part of the people. Perhaps you want to know about the proposed political party as People First. That is a proposal of the people. They are proposing a party where people will be governed by the constitution and not the power and authority of individuals.
ZI: At what stage are you in the formation of this party and what role are you specifically playing?
JS: No, no, no, no. You want to hear whether there are structures and how far we have gone in forming a party.
JS: Look, its different when individuals want to start a party and when people want to organise themselves into a party. When people want to organise themselves into a party it is almost to some point spontaneous. It’s unlike when individuals want to start a party; that’s why it cannot be a discernible project. So I can not tell you at what stage we are in terms of structures, branches, cells, etc.
ZI: We understand you have been going around Matabeleland setting up structures.
JS: The person who gave you that information was misleading you … With this situation you don’t have to go to the people to look for structures. In this situation, people organise themselves on their own.
ZI: Even if people come on their own like you say, at the end of the day there is need for organisation and leadership.
JS: True. That is why the proposed party will have leadership and structures when it is formed.
ZI: You have been in Zanu PF for a long time and you must be aware of the party’s tactics including violence and intimidation. Are you not afraid?
JS: This nation has been in fear for some time and this nation has developed a mind not to run away from its fears, but face its fears.
ZI: In other words you are ready to face anything, including violence as part of a Zanu PF backlash?
JS: When we liberated this nation, there was death on the road. So when we move forward it won’t be different. The question is, are the people determined to move forward? I don’t think Zanu PF will have any chance to use violence against 14 million citizens in the country.
First, I come from a country that lost many people during the liberation struggle and secondly I come from Matabeleland where people were killed in the 1980s.
But all this is not important; what is important is to fight unemployment, hunger, poverty and other problems affecting our people.
Unfortunately, to deal with all these things we have to uproot or remove the source (of the problem) which is Zanu PF. It’s up to President (Robert) Mugabe to call people to sit down and talk.
I have gone from meeting to meeting reading Isaiah 1 verse 18 which says come let’s reason together. It’s for the President to bring people together and reason with him, give him ideas that are no longer there in Zanu PF.
ZI: Suppose Mugabe calls you to “reason”, does this mean the People First project will be halted? Will you and your colleagues go back to Zanu PF if invited back?
JS: Reasoning together with President Mugabe does not mean the project won’t go forward. It also doesn’t necessarily mean reasoning with President Mugabe alone; it means to reason with Morgan Tsvangirai, Dumiso Dabengwa, Tendai Biti, Simba Makoni and every other person that wants to build Zimbabwe.
ZI: It is seems once the People First party is in place there may be an alliance with other political parties particularly the Tsvangirai-led MDC-T. Is that the case?
JS: What Zimbabweans want now is democracy and progress. Democracy does not necessarily mean a multiplicity of political parties. Democracy means the right to hear and to be heard and that cannot be achieved by only having 10 political parties or so.
If a government is to be removed through elections, it cannot be removed by 20 people who say we are friends and yet stand against each other in one constituency. Zimbabweans are grown up now. We have a situation where they will be people who want to build and those who want to destroy. Those who want to build will be responsible enough to know how to stand and when to stand and what to stand for.
ZI: Critics of People First say you have been anti-Tsvangirai, anti-Biti and anti-Welshman Ncube. What has changed?
JS: I have previously not been seeing eye-to-eye with Tsvangirai, Biti, Ncube, the people you mention. But for the sake of peace, the future and for us to build our country, let’s work together.
We want to see eye-to-eye with those we have differed with, we want to rise above ideologies and use common sense as an integral part of nation-building and bring people together. We may not only see eye-to-eye, but we may need to join hands to build our country. In this programme we are embarking on, there is a need to join forces.
ZI: You have been gracing opposition parties rallies. It never dawned on people you may share the stage with Biti or Tsvangirai. Do they have something to offer?
JS: That’s growing up. It means the ability to accommodate and tell a person that we disagree on this or agree on that and reach a resolution. We have been having different views, but now personal views must be set aside for the good of our country and the future of children. Everyone has something to offer.
ZI: Have your ideological differences narrowed?
JS: We differed on land; that’s the most important thing we differed on and other things like homosexuality as a right. We differed on that, we will also differ as we go along. But differing does not mean they have to kill me or I have to kill them.
ZI: Of late Zanu PF has been saying Mujuru is working with the West through people like Bishop Sebastian Bakare (of the Anglican Church) to topple President Mugabe. Is that the case?
JS: I have never seen (Bishop) Bakare. He was not there when I was expelled from Zanu PF. He was not there when I was arrested at my farm. He was not there when the Zanu PF constitution was illegally amended before the congress, when in actual fact it should be amended after the congress.
When Mujuru was dismissed I didn’t see Bakare there, I didn’t see (US President Barack) Obama or David Cameron. We are tired of being told that if you condemn wrong things in Zanu PF you are also condemned through vindictive punishment. What I know about the West is that they enslaved us during the slave trade, not all of those things.
In Africa Samora Machel, Oliver Tambo and people like Mugabe were fighting for people to be free and for them to elect their leaders. But all these struggles have been betrayed by leaders in Zanu PF today because the party has changed and become worse than before.
For example, 20 000 people died in Matabeleland in the 1980s, but where they killed by Americans? Where they killed by the British? Where they killed by the Germans? It’s not the Americans, Chinese that killed people in Matabeleland; it is the government (of Zimbabwe). It was supposed to protect those people, but instead went on to massacre them. So don’t tell me about the West. To me, its people from State House to blame.
ZI: Why were you quiet about Gukurahundi and other injustices when you were in Zanu PF?
JS: I stood up against Gukurahundi and spent time in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. In fact, at the time, prison had become my second home. The torture camps that are still there had become my bedroom, while standing up against the atrocities.
ZI: You were implicated in the 2008 election violence. Why, given that you were a victim in the past?
JS: When I was national chairman of war veterans in 2008, there was no genuine war veteran who was involved in that violence. It was a Third Force.
ZI: Which Third Force?
JS: I don’t want to talk about the Third Force, but people know what happened?
ZI: What role did you play in the 2008 elections and who do you blame?
JS: Before the elections, I sat down and analysed the political situation. That time there was something that was said by the British.
They had said in their parliament they are working with the MDC to achieve regime change in Zimbabwe. That statement prompted me to discuss with war veterans how to defend our freedom by stopping the British from achieving their agenda.
I approached then secretary for legal affairs in Zanu PF, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and he invited me to Kwekwe. I raised the war veterans’ concerns with him.
The first concern was on why Zanu PF had agreed to harmonised elections when they were forces outside who wanted to steal our freedom. I felt it was dangerous and we should rather have local government elections first to test our strength.
He said, “no, we are going to win the elections”. My second argument was that they were multiplying constituencies and yet Zanu PF was imposing leaders during primary elections. I thought the party would lose, particularly in bigger provinces. Mnangagwa said to me, “no, we are going to win the entire provinces and constituencies”. He was wrong and I was right; they were reading things wrongly as they are doing now.
I went to Nicholas Goche, then secretary for security and the late Elliot Manyika (then Zanu PF commissar), with the same concerns but they did not listen. We went into the election and the people who thought were right were proved wrong.
Those who thought they were right were now facing a dead end, so they came up with the Third Force resulting in violence. The war veterans were not involved in that.
ZI: Your fellow war veteran Joseph Chinotimba says you led war vets into violence.
JS: He is a parliamentarian. People don’t take him seriously, but he must be taken seriously. But look, he was not in the executive of war vets. Chiri kungotimba (he is just digging) like his name suggests.
ZI: Given all the work you have done for Zanu PF, do you feel betrayed?
JS: We were betrayed because we wanted to do things clean. I don’t believe in violence. If people have good programmes, they must take them to the people and give people the chance to decide.
ZI: Critics say the People First movement is filled with bitter people who just want to settle personal scores with Mugabe and those in Zanu PF. What’s your comment?
JS: People that have been fired from jobs are bitter people, but those who don’t have food to eat and water to drink are more bitter. Actually, the whole nation is bitter now.
For example, there are millions of Zimbabweans living in South Africa, Botswana, Britain, Japan, Australia and all over the world, who ran away from Gukurahundi and the continuous economic meltdown.
Our people are there because of the situation in our country. Are they not bitter?
ZI: But are you bitter?
JS: I don’t think I am bitter, but am agile both in body and mind. If you are talking about bitterness to rescue this country, yes I am very bitter
ZI: Do you think Mujuru has the capacity to form a vibrant party to challenge Zanu PF and President Mugabe, and win?
JS: Mujuru is not forming a party, the people are proposing a party and people are proposing that she leads that party. The reason why people are proposing Mujuru and not anyone else is because she is humble, receptive to ideas — that is a good quality.
Qualifications and qualities of leadership both she has. She is not standing in front of the people like a movie star, but she will stand in front of the people in order to listen to all of them. She will be positioned in front of the people such that when she is in Harare, she will listen to all provinces at the same time. She has the capacity to do that.
She is a freedom fighter. She went to war.
ZI: Does she have the stamina to stand against either Mnangagwa or Mugabe in 2018?
JS: I respect Mugabe regardless of how he treated me. I respect the man. He is 91 and it is in our culture to respect the elderly. I respect him as a man, but I won’t respect him as candidate running for presidency again. I don’t think he could do that. I think he would be responsible enough not to stand again.
Already, things are reflecting that he is not in control. For example, look at the 11 new ministers recently appointed; about four ministers coming from the same district. That never happened when Mugabe was still really in power. I don’t think he will stand against Mujuru.
ZI: Suppose Mujuru wins an election, do you think she will be accepted by the securocrats in the country?
JS: The people in the military won’t be against the people. They won’t be against Mujuru. The military will accept the outcome because they will recognise that the peace, freedom that people fought for has been secured.
Remember, when we say People First, it basically means that everyone is in — the masses, doctors, nurses, housewives, miners, builders, journalists and security services. That’s what comprises the people. I don’t see the army standing against the people. If they do let it be.
ZI: In other words you are saying Mujuru is acceptable to the army?
JS: It’s not about Mujuru being acceptable to the army, its about democracy and the constitution. Our constitution says we can remove or retain a government through periodic elections after every five years.
There is a difference between rule of law and law by rule. I don’t think the military is for the law by rule, but for the rule of law.